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May 11, 2007

Deaf Talkabout: Derek bowled over by a new job at the top

From: Belfast Telegraph - Belfast,UK - May 11, 2007

By Bob McCullough

On a lovely sunny day in south Belfast, and in the company of a large and appreciative crowd of his fellow sportsmen, Derek Graham was installed as President of Belfast Bowling Club, the first time in the 165 years' history of the club that a born deaf man has been so honoured.

Derek's wife Linda declared the season open by delivering the first bowl and was presented with a bouquet of flowers.

Founded in 1842, the Belfast club is the oldest in Ireland and has occupied several sites before moving five years ago to its present idyllic situation in Deramore Park, just off the Malone Road.

They play in the Private Greens' league and Derek tells me that while the fellowship at games is wonderful it is taking him some time getting used to being addressed as Mr President! Now 57, Derek has been in the club for 13 years but says he started playing bowls as a boy of 14 when his grandfather coached him at Ormeau Park.

Outdoors or indoors, short mat or long, he loves all aspects of the game and told me of the joy it has given him to meet many of the top players in the province and to compete with them in tournaments. And even beat some of them!

Derek plays third man in a four-ball team and the skip has learned some simple signs to help with bowling directions and placement round the jack.

Matches are usually played home and away on alternate weeks and the home club looks after the catering that forms such an important part of Private Green hospitality.

I asked him if it was hard, as a deaf man, to get along with the 40 or so hearing folk at after-match dinners? "Is communication not a problem? Don't you feel awkward and isolated?"

"Not at all", Derek assured me. "The other bowlers treat me very well and their attitude is wonderful. From the very beginning I have made it plain that I want to be regarded as an equal and this applies to my place in the team as well as my social standing.

"I have to fight for equality in all aspects of teamwork and can't use my deafness as an excuse if I'm going through a bad spell and don't play well.

I have an interpreter for the monthly committee meetings, but I cope quite well at other times with the help of lip-reading and written notes. Everyone is very kind to me."

An interesting aspect of Private Green League play is that most of their rinks have underground drainage and this facilitates play in all weathers: " We just pull on our waterproofs and get on with it", Derek told me.

"Being all wrapped up in torrential rain makes communication just that wee bit harder, but I don't let it bother me?"

Brian Symington, the RNID Director in Northern Ireland, was guest of honour at Derek's induction and spoke of the Deaflympics in China next year.

Several other deaf people, like Derek, play for hearing clubs, but would it not be lovely if the several deaf organisations around the country could pool their resources and set up a place such as Deramore with facilities and coaching to encourage sport of all kinds for deaf people in an environment where communication would not be a problem?

Derek, however, is absolutely convinced that the deaf community is too small and fragmented to make such an idea feasible.

Professional coaching and regular competition of a high standard is necessary to help anybody achieve success in sport and, speaking from his experience with Belfast Bowling Club, feels this can only be obtained by full participation in the wider hearing world.

© Independent News & Media (NI)